‘Listening’ with Your Whole Body

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Hearing music is not necessarily limited to the ears. Take for example musician, composer and speaker Evelyn Glennie. Ms. Glennie has been profoundly – not completely – deaf since the age of 12.

She asserts that deafness in general is largely misunderstood by the public and she has taught herself to “hear” with parts of her body other than her ears.

In her essay Hearing Essay she talks openly about her condition.

So far we have the hearing of sounds and the feeling of vibrations. There is one other element to the equation, sight. We can also see items move and vibrate. If I see a drum head or cymbal vibrate or even see the leaves of a tree moving in the wind then subconsciously my brain creates a corresponding sound.

A common and ill informed question from interviewers is ‘How can you be a musician when you can’t hear what you are doing?’ The answer is of course that I couldn’t be a musician if I were not able to hear.

Another often asked question is ‘How do you hear what you are playing?’ The logical answer to this is; how does anyone hear?. An electrical signal is generated in the ear and various bits of other information from our other senses all get sent to the brain which then processes the data to create a sound picture.

The various processes involved in hearing a sound are very complex but we all do it subconsciously so we group all these processes together and call it simply listening. The same is true for me. Some of the processes or original information may be different but to hear sound all I do is to listen. I have no more idea of how I hear than you do.

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Beyond the surface details of her inspiring story, she offers very thoughtful and insightful lessons for us as horn players and musicians to learn from.

In this brilliant lecture from her TED talk from 2003, she illustrates that music transcends the mere auditory, and that it is a whole-body experience.

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